BackgroundThe integron is a genetic recombination system that catalyses the acquisition of genes on mobilisable elements called gene cassettes. In Vibrio species, multiple acquired gene cassettes form a cassette array that can comprise 1-3% of the bacterial genome. Since 75% of these gene cassettes contain genes encoding proteins of uncharacterised function, how the integron has driven adaptation and evolution in Vibrio species remains largely unknown. A feature of cassette arrays is the presence of large indels. Using Vibrio rotiferianus DAT722 as a model organism, the aim of this study was to determine how large cassette deletions affect vibrio physiology with a view to improving understanding into how cassette arrays influence bacterial host adaptation and evolution.
Methodology/principal findingsBiological assays and proteomic techniques were utilised to determine how artificially engineered deletions in the cassette array of V. rotiferianus DAT722 affected cell physiology. Multiple phenotypes were identified including changes to growth and expression of outer membrane porins/proteins and metabolic proteins. Furthermore, the deletions altered cell surface polysaccharide with Proton Nuclear Magnetic Resonance on whole cell polysaccharide identifying changes in the carbohydrate ring proton region indicating that gene cassette products may decorate host cell polysaccharide via the addition or removal of functional groups.
Conclusions/significanceFrom this study, it was concluded that deletion of gene cassettes had a subtle effect on bacterial metabolism but altered host surface polysaccharide. Deletion (and most likely rearrangement and acquisition) of gene cassettes may provide the bacterium with a mechanism to alter its surface properties, thus impacting on phenotypes such as biofilm formation. Biofilm formation was shown to be altered in one of the deletion mutants used in this study. Reworking surface properties may provide an advantage to the bacterium's interactions with organisms such as bacteriophage, protozoan grazers or crustaceans.